Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Could We Intervene In Syria Without Killing Any Civilians?

I think there's a way to intervene in Syria that enforces the norm against chemical weapons, and doesn't cause any direct civilian casualties. Moreover, it's the sort of mission that Obama seems to want.

Obama's focus seems to be simply on enforcing the international norm against using chemical weapons. He's not calling for regime change, or trying to win the war for the rebels, or anything like that. All you need to do to sufficiently enforce the norm against chemical weapons is make Assad wish he hadn't let his troops use them. And all you need to do to make him regret that is destroy enough of his high-tech military equipment, like his aircraft.

We could see where airplanes land with military satellites and hit them with bombs or Tomahawk missiles. Or we could find them when they're in the air and shoot them down. Assad can't just hide all his military hardware all the time -- he's in a civil war and he wants to win. So he'll have to expose his military equipment, and then we destroy enough of it to make him wish he hadn't used nerve gas. Alternatively, maybe we announce publicly that we're going to destroy some Syrian military building or the presidential palace, give people time to clear out, and then hit it with long-range missiles.

With that done, we can go home. If destroying a few planes and/or structures isn't enough to topple Assad, that's just fine. That wasn't the mission. Since the objective is so narrow, we can pick our targets as we like, and not attack anything that is likely to cause civilian casualties. The mission is just "Make Assad regret using chemical weapons." Unlike setting up a government we like in Iraq or doing counterinsurgency warfare, that's something the US military is suited to accomplishing.

If I were a Senator, this is the structure of the mission that I'd be interested in supporting. I don't know what shape the mission will eventually take, or whether it'll happen, so I definitely wouldn't commit myself to supporting what we end up doing. But this is a structure with more good consequences than bad, as far as I can see, and it's one that political leaders are now in position to push for.

1 comment:

CZHA said...

James Fallows posted a thoughtful piece by William Polk the other day:

"Your Labor Day Syria Reader, Part 2: William Polk"


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